Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash
Here is a simple thing that you already know: you get good at the things you practice. Maybe you have seen this in action with tying your shoes, playing an instrument, or memorizing math facts or poetry. This is great news – we can work on things and grow! The “practice makes perfect” adage needs a little footnote though. If you practice doing things right, you ingrain that pattern in your mind and you get better. If you practice doing things wrong, then that pattern gets ingrained and can cause problems. The truth might be more like “practice makes pattern.”
A little example. I taught myself to hold a pencil incorrectly when I was a little kid. I didn’t know I was doing it wrong. I could write just fine and people could read my writing. I got through a lot of school, and at some point recognized that my grip was different from most people’s. When I was 27, I noticed that my hand really hurt when I wrote a lot. I decided to change my grip to see if my hands could feel better. But I COULD NOT DO IT with a regular pen or pencil. My pattern was just too engrained and, despite my good intentions, I would revert to the pattern I knew. I bought a pen with a triangular shaft, committed to using only that pen for a while, and eventually unlearned my old pattern, relearned a new pattern, and my hand stopped hurting.
Maybe you haven’t thought of it in quite this way, but you have probably seen “practice makes pattern” in action with thought patterns as well. If you practice worrying or blaming (yourself or others), those patterns get engrained and they can start to happen without you noticing. It may even start to feel like you have no choice – like all you know how to do is blame or worry.
It’s not always easy, but you can unlearn a thought pattern and learn to practice a new one. You can learn see the thought pattern as a pattern instead of seeing it as a black hole or a permanent thing. And you can put a new pattern in its place. You can choose to practice peace.